Few of life’s pleasures are as reinvigorating as traveling abroad. New sights slow us down to savor their singularities, refreshing our perspectives and vitality. However, exploring new lands also tempts unique risks to a family’s health, safety and financial security. Left unmanaged and unmitigated, such threats can be dire.
These hazards are multi-faceted and constantly evolving. A short list includes the possibility of being injured or becoming ill in a region without sophisticated and proximate medical care, kidnapping, extortion and other criminal perils, the loss of vital documents like credit cards and passports, and the risk of trip cancellation. Other seemingly less obvious exposures include the potential for government detention and/or arrest for criminal or political reasons.
Certainly, the risks of international travel are not curbing the appetite to venture abroad—nor should they, assuming an adequate understanding and management of travel-related exposures. After several years of a tourism slowdown in the aftermath of 9/11 and the global financial crisis and subsequent recession, the world has again become smaller. According to the American Society of Travel Agents, 60% of member travel agencies’ sales so far this year derived from international travel, a 49% increase in international sales compared to 2004 figures.
Another study conducted by International SOS and Control Risks indicates considerable risks to these global voyagers. The firms’ survey of nearly 300 security, travel and corporate HR managers unearthed significant concerns among the respondents regarding such potential hazards as civil unrest (22% of respondents), opportunistic crime (18%), and terrorism (16%). Certainly, these issues are much in the news of late, given the uncertain political environment in numerous parts of the globe.
Risk 1: Political Upheaval
A recent conversation with James Wasdell, co-founder and director of Quantum Underwriting Solutions in London, underscored these risks. The agency serves the needs of high-net-worth individuals throughout the United Kingdom. James mentioned the experience of one of Quantum’s clients as a keen illustration of what can go wrong. “He had traveled to Thailand a few years ago, when suddenly out of nowhere there was an attempt to overthrow the government in a coup d’etat,” James explained. “The British government immediately advised citizens to get out of the region as soon as possible for their own safety.”
While the travelers took the recommendation to heart, the airports in Thailand soon closed and all normally scheduled flights were cancelled. James’ client returned to his hotel, as did many other stranded travelers. Needless to say, they were extremely frightened.
“Fortunately, my client had the means to charter a private jet,” James noted. “He asked others at the hotel if they would like to join him. There were 12 seats in all available on the plane, but they would all have to chip in to cover the $80,000 cost.”
The threat to the tourists’ personal safety was such that the client had no trouble gathering the funds. “Chubb wired him the money for his share of the cost within 48 hours,” James said. “Not everyone was so lucky, however. Afterwards, he did a little poll and found out that the other travelers, on average, had to wait five weeks to be reimbursed by their insurers. Even worse—several were refused reimbursement, their insurers refusing to cover the cost, arguing the chartering of a private jet was an extravagant expense.”
If the client had not the financial wherewithal to charter the jet, James suspects he and the other travelers would have been detained in the country for an indefinite period. “Thankfully, he was able to get everyone out of there before things got a lot worse,” James said. “As we have seen in Egypt and elsewhere recently, many countries that are high on people’s travel agendas also are politically unstable.”